June 20, 2013

"News on the book, A4 Conversion Parts and a new job..."

We're getting there! Yes it's been long, protracted and not without some blood, sweat and tears along the way.

I am finally at the stage of feeling like we are going to have a superb product at the end of it all, having seen printed samples of the final pages, and the front cover, gloriously produced by the London College of Communication.

I have worried for nearly seven months solid as to whether or not the book was going to look the part. I can say categorically that we have a product which can sit on a shelf in a bookstore and be seen, and taken seriously.

It was never my intention to go into this half-heartedly, and by going through this first book and getting to the print stage, it has taught me a lot about self-publishing, and what can be done better for the next book.

Apologies for the lack of blog posts recently. I started a new job with the Financial Ombudsman Service, which I am absolutely loving. The office and its staff are wonderful, amazing people and I'm very happy to be back in work and earning a full time wage again.

That is not to say I am giving up on the blog, merely that I am scaling back my modelling activities.

That does mean that I have had to delay the A4 conversion parts, however this is a minor set back which I will rectify once certain events are out of the way (my impending holiday to Malta, the fiancee's sister's wedding, and a few other family events). I intend to have the kits and parts ready for sale by August, so please feel free to email me with your orders and queries.

Thanks to everyone for their continued patience too. Remember that The British Railway Stories Ltd is a one man operation, with a two man publishing team and both members with full time jobs and other commitments which limit the scope sometimes of what we can do.

We do try very hard, and will continue to do so, to bring these wonderful stories to you in both print and eBook form.

I hope to have finished Drew the Colliery Engine (Book 2), Gresley's Goliaths (Book 3) and our as yet unannounced Book 4 (featuring another preserved railway locomotive) over the course of the next three to four months. Writing has been difficult due to the job change mostly, but things are getting back on track slowly but surely.

Until next time!

June 13, 2013

"Shires and Hunts"

This superb model turned up in the post this week. I say "superb" mostly on the basis of the potential for some modelling this plucky locomotive offers. 

This model has latterly been described elsewhere as one of Hornby's more bizarre choices of Railroad offerings (which to me made some sense, given the use of the same chassis underneath the revitalised Midland Compound, Great Western County and Maunsell Schools class locomotives now on sale) and to be frank, I suppose you'd expect that I'd be very critical of this model, particularly given the awkward detail problems the model has. 

The problem stems mostly from the combination of the outside steam pipes, piston valves and the pick of the name/number from the "Hunt" sub section of the Gresley D49 class, along with the tender choice. 

Hornby have previously offered the D49 as an out and out "Shire" without the outside steam pipes and certain choice identities, but here the combination is a tricky one to sort without some modelling, which I intend to do much later in the year after some research and study.

Previously I have bought one of these models as the basis for my Thompson D Class exercise, and whilst that model is by no means a perfect representation of that unique locomotive, the project itself was good fun and gave me something rather unique to play around with.

The point of the matter is that the Railroad D49 is perfect material for further modelling, and the results (as can be seen across the internet and in particular on the LNER Encyclopaedia Form) can be really rather convincing.

My job now is to convince myself into modelling either a Hunt or a Shire, and to what extent I modify the locomotive bodyshell or replace it altogether. One thing which IS going to be replaced is the tender, for which I have a cunning plan involving resin casting and one of Bachmann's excellent Robinson D11s. Purely for my own use, you understand, and this will solve the tender issue of the Thompson B3/3 as well...!

Until next time.

June 05, 2013

"Hornby Heavy Tanks: In defence of consumerism"

Sometimes I think railway modellers are inclined to look at things through rose tinted spectacles a little too often. 

We live and work in a consumer orientated society. Every single manufacturer in every single market (except ours, apparently) is open to constructive criticism and debate on quality and pricing.

Take for instance, the recent Xbox One news. Consumers and critics alike questioning the specification, the design and the eye watering price, both in comparison to its rivals and in terms of its overall value for money.

This is a healthy debate: consumers are, after all, the target market and its their needs and desires that companies develop their wares for. If a manufacturer gets overly expensive for what is no longer a premium product (for examples look at Nokia and Sony Ericsson phones of years past) then their popularity will decline and they'll come in for justifiable criticism from all angles. 

Sometimes it makes a company pull their socks up and reinvent their own market (see apple) or generally improve their products or lower their prices accordingly.

We are, after all, in a capitalism driven market and capitalism itself is what drives manufacturers like Hornby and Bachmann. They are businesses, they exist to make money and to make profits year on year. Their drive is not to fulfil every single whim of the railway modeller (though it helps, of course, to listen to what your market is telling you) but to make railway models which sell out and generate their own demand year on year.

For all the world recently, though, you'd think that manufacturers like Hornby and Bachmann were put on this earth for a very different reason. To keep this hobby alive, no less, and for that may we all be truly grateful...

It's utter tosh, and a fundamental basic principle of business is being completely overlooked by those who are so very keen to push a particular agenda. The facts are stonewall in this particular issue I am afraid, and it goes a bit like this.

There is a line in the sand where a manufacturer in any market can go too far, whether it is reducing the quality and specification of their wares but at the same time keeping their prices artificially high, or higher. Or, to go the other way and price their wares out of reach of the vast majority of their customers.

We see this all the time elsewhere in the consumer led markets, and magazines, websites and TV shows are not so afraid elsewhere to cast a more critical eye.

Richard Fosters review of the Hornby 42xx Heavy Tank (which should be praised for being balanced and critical where it counts for the consumer) has been unfairly ridiculed, lambasted and described, rather preposterously, as "violent" by Simon Kohler, no less!

The review has been rather heinously described as "Hornby bashing", and anyone who has shown agreement with the point of view have been vilified, to the extent that yours truly was accused of over-egging the point on a certain forum for daring to disagree with the rather silly view that I have no right to voice an opinion which is concerned for future Hornby releases...!

All of these people have missed the point entirely and I'm afraid Simon Kohler's description of Richard Foster's review does him no favours. No, the 42xx Heavy Tank is not a bad model but it is a very average one being sold at a high premium price comparable to this:

Or this:

Or even this:

Last year I praised the Hornby Thompson O1 and the Gresley B17 in particular. 

They are superb models, the O1 for me being the true "model of the year" is an incredible depiction of its prototype, with very, very few minor "flaws" (one being the smokebox door which covers a small proportion of the class, but that is fixable and several very able modellers have done that with some aplomb).

In Hornbys own range it is clear that the 42xx Heavy Tank is a step back in terms of technology (both body shell and chassis) and is available at a price comparable to these much superior models Hornby have produced only a few months ago.

Can you imagine the future iPhone 6 being sold without wifi capability? The next Samsung Galaxy phone sold without a touch screen? Can you imagine your new car coming without power steering and yet being sold at a price comparable to another manufacturers, which does have power steering?

In the real world of other consumer led markets, quality and value for money is key, along with desirability. Hornby are fully capable of hitting all of those targets and have done consistently for some years (with the odd lemon that is the Hornby 4VEP) that but have fallen down here for me.

Does saying that out loud, firmly, and without intent (lest you believe the ridiculous assertions of one webmaster in particular) harm Hornby itself? Only if they do not react to the justified criticism of their latest models. Their models have to continue to improve, or keep the standards high, and if not, should be priced accordant with their quality.

Modellers are having to be more cautious in their spending. Times are hard and lots of expensive railway models are booming increasingly difficult to justify for many people. It is value for money which is most important elsewhere in the real world, and so should it be in our hobby when buying the latest ready to run models.

I'm afraid the reality of this debate is that a few individuals have seen fit to turn a positive of our railway media (constructive debate and criticism) into some form of monster, which neither exists in the form so pompously described by one who should know better as rivet counting, nor is it as unwarranted as they would have you believe.

Railway modellers are consumers too, and it is your right as a consumer to be critical. It is your money, your hobby and the manufacturers are businesses which exist to make money. Nothing more and nothing less.

They must, as other manufacturers in other industries do, sink or swim on the basis of their wares. If their wares are not good enough, they will fail. If you want them to succeed, tell them where they are going wrong in the most constructive manner possible.

Which is exactly what Richard Foster did last month, and I applaud him and Model Rail for their honest and critical review. 

Shame on those reviewers who have forgot the consumers and turned a blind eye to the 42xx's premium price and less than premium overall quality.

Value for money indeed!